I wrote to my HR department to tell them I had had some emergency treatment. What I got back surprised me, an admission that they knew nothing about it – contractual sickness terms – and a sign off that reads
Please let me know if I can do anything else to help at this stage and I hope you are soon back at work.
From “Welfare” to “well being”.
It was not that long ago that “staff welfare” was the #1 priority of HR departments, now they seem to be a risk mitigation function ensuring companies cannot be sued by employees with an eye to the main chance.
Compliance with IS 9000 is a KPI for our company so when staff “fare badly” , they become part of the risk-register. In this blog I argue that process cannot has to put staff welfare – nor corporate risk mitigation as its focus.
Staff welfare or “well-being” as it’s now been rebranded, is a very simple concept that does not require a 900 page staff handbook and a battalion of lawyers. It starts in sympathy. As sympathy is no longer in the HR lexicon let me remind myself what it means
“feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune”.
You can express sympathy but not be believed, to be believed you have to show “empathy”. Empathy can be defined as
“ the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position”
It is not enough to have sympathetic thoughts, there needs to be more, you need to see and feel things from someone else’s point of view.
When we commoditise welfare – we get to well-being, a “measurable” that turns HR into a branch of risk management. Welfare is more than can be achieved through process; HR due process is an abstract notion linked to productivity and compliance.
The real problem with HR as risk mitigation
Sympathy is easy, you can cut and paste it from any HR manual, but empathy is hard, it’s dead hard – because it means trying to understand where someone is coming from.
The compliance approach to HR assumes that staff are always coming at an issue with a wish to escalate for personal self-gain. If the assumption is that behind each mail or letter there is an ambulance chaser then the chance to see things from your staff’s point of view goes out the window. The mail I got from HR read like a legal disclaimer and I guess that it did a good job of protecting the company’s position.
But it made me feel mad! I’m already back at work- I never left work. I love First Actuarial , I don’t want to bend the rules! I’m a Director, I have duties to my company!
I didn’t need a lecture but I got one
“You’ll appreciate that under such circumstance we will offer as much support as is possible but our contractual sickness terms apply to all employees”
The real problem with “HR as risk mitigation” is it makes worried and scared people even more worried and scared. It puts up the barriers turning sympathy into hollow words. Empathy has no chance – this is all about them and nothing about you.
Personnel means people
I didn’t want a lecture, I wanted a cuddle. I wanted someone in my company to give me sympathy (with empathy).
And I am sure up and down the country, people are reading this and asking the same question. Whatever happened to staff welfare, to the personnel officer to the “get well soon card” or similar.
Nowadays, that empathic sympathy comes through social media where people feel free to issue an emotional response to situations without fear of litigation. Thanks to all – most especially to Gareth and Andrew for the kind gift!
It is a shame that companies feel unable to do staff welfare but I fear that is what has happened,
Personnel used to mean people- now people are a commodity – a human resource employed to maximise profit. Yet the companies in Britain that have survived longest, have done so because they look after their people.
I think of Bournville, Port Sunlight and I think of WeWork – these are places where the basic principles of looking after each other emanate from work.
Personnel means people and can still mean people. I know our HR people they are great. But they shouldn’t forget that for all their accreditations, they are about staff welfare and there are times that even ISO 9000 falls short.